One of the more useful soundbites about our financial predicament is ‘you can’t get out of a debt problem by increasing the amount of your debt’. As with any useful maxim, there are times when it might be wrong – I think there are occasions when it might make sense to increase debt in order to solve problems, eg as part of a general restructuring – but as a rule of thumb, it seems pretty good to me.
I want to argue that there is a similar maxim that applies to our present ecological predicament, one that is thrown up by our crashing in to the Limits to Growth. The maxim is this ‘you can’t get out of an idolisation of science problem by making more appeals to science’. I write about what the ‘idolisation of science problem’ is in my book, but put succinctly, I see the root problem in our culture as a blindness towards questions of value and a consequent neglect of the development of wisdom. That is, I see our culture as institutionally apathistic, and I see the principal presenting symptom of that lack of wisdom being the excess valuation given to whatever ‘science’ might say.
For those who understand the nature of the Limits to Growth – call them the ‘greens’ for now – there is an irreducible element of scientific understanding inherent in the perspective. Information about pollution and resource limits is largely a matter of science. What we are to do in the light of that information, however, is not. It is a matter of human discernment, for which science is trivially irrelevant. Worse than that, the subordination of wider human understandings to the narrow scientism that dominates our culture is itself one of the principal obstacles that need to be overcome
I have written before about the ‘climate screech’ which I see as one of the problems of contemporary green advocacy. The predicament that we are in, which the greens understand, is so much wider and deeper than the question of global warming, on which I continue to become increasingly sceptical. If we are to enable people to shift their understandings, their patterns of life, away from our present unwise paths, we will not be able to do so by continuing, to all intents and purposes, to insist in our advocacy on the primacy of “science”. Science says X, therefore we must do Y. This is a path that is doomed to failure, not least because science changes its mind on a regular basis, and greens who married the scientific consensus of the late 1980s are now finding themselves widows – and the necessary political arguments have been lost.
I believe that those who advocate green courses of action – a wiser and more responsible stewardship of this planet – need to do a great deal of soul-searching to understand why it is that the emphasis upon global warming has been such a political failure, and why the continued screeching is having such a counter-productive impact upon the wider green movement. To my mind it seems clear that we cannot get out of a crisis caused by too much science by simply increasing the amount of science on which we rely.
In the meantime I am looking forward to taking part in the Dark Mountain festival next month. This is a group that really ‘gets it’.